If you begin in St. Louis and intend to drive any great distance (or any moderate distance) you will find it necessary to cross at least one river. Depending on direction and distance, you may cross more than one — or the same river more than once.
Today we’re going to focus on driving southwest from the heart of the city. The first sizable (except during flood) river you will encounter is the Meramec. The first time you cross it on Interstate 44 or a state highway running roughly parallel, the river is flowing south — perhaps a few degrees to the southeast.
Less than ten miles later, Interstate 44 crosses the Meramec River again — where it flows north. Like most rivers, perhaps a little more than average, the river changes direction several times as it wanders from the source to the Mississippi River.
This is a crossing where a steel truss bridge with oak floor planks spanned the water in 1900. In 1932, a new bridge, to carry the traffic for the new US Highway 66 replaced the previous. When the Interstate was construction, a new bridge, a little south (upstream) was completed. The old (second) bridge continued to serve local traffic until 2009. At that time, the decking was removed in an effort to lighten the load on the steel trusses and wait for funds to restore the structure which now lies within a State Park.
A trace of Bridge #1 remains with the pair of footings visible at low water. Bridge #2 — deckless — is in the foreground while Bridge #3 carries the traffic from St. Louis to points southwest such as Rolla and Springfield in Missouri, Tulsa, OK and beyond.
Numerous bridges span the Mississippi River as it cuts from North to South in the middle of the United States. The bridge below: Crescent City Connection Bridges (a side-by-side pair) is the final bridge. If you need to cross the river, or one of it’s many branches as it winds its way to the Gulf of Mexico, hire a boat.
While this is not exactly a seacoast photo — the water is fresh — the river is wide and the New Orleans waterfront is active with freight and cruise ship traffic.
Disclaimer: I’ve a soft spot in my heart for this river. I envy, but will never, be one of the adventurers in a canoe or small boat to travel the entire length. I have discovered and admire the work of a retired art teacher who some years ago visited and sketched all the bridges. I’ve crossed many and still have more on the “Bucket” list.
The result is a structure which functioned for well over a century. After a few decades, the makeup of the burden carried changed in character. And grew in both size and weight.
Located in Southern Indiana, this covered bridge served the local residents from 1863 until the final decade of the 20th century. According to the sign above the entrance, it is 150 feet long and cost a total of $5,700 to construct.
I walked it during my visit. Imagine crossing it on horseback, horse-drawn wagon, or bicycle.
The park appeared tiny from the road past the hospital. Aside from a modest parking lot and a little wild area along a small creek there wasn’t much too it.
Well…there was this footbridge. It must lead to something.
So on a fine January day, I parked in the lot and went exploring. I needed the steps for my exercise program. And when weather permits I prefer fresh to mall recycled air.
Step, step, step over the creek. The wooden planks bring the story of the three Billy goats crossing the bridge where the troll lived. (O, that’s an old story which my father told with much expression.)
Asphalt paths wound past ball fields, branched to give a choice on into the woods or loop around on the level past a second parking lot. I took the wooded route and admired the woods at rest. Leaves on the ground. A few patches of brown grass. Rocks exerting authority when the eye is not distracted by busy summer growth. A few birds gathering lunch and calling to friends.
It’s good to take a risk and cross over the bridge to explore.
When the United States was a young nation, rivers aided travelers and commerce. They were important routes to move people and goods – either raw, natural resources or later on, manufactured products.
As time and technology moved along the rivers became obstacles as well as trails.
Highways could ford a small stream. If it wasn’t running in spring flood. But larger bodies of water needed bridges. Yes, bridges have been built for centuries. Some of the old, stone structures are beautiful as well as practical.
But a new, growing nation needed more and more bridges to move more and more products on railroads and highways. Cities grew along rivers and begged for connection to the other side. Boats and barges using the waterways demanded unimpeded passage.
My hat’s off to the engineers of the bridges in the USA. Working within all sorts of restraints of time, space, and resources they have managed to give us routes, and alternate routes, to pass safely from one side of the river to the other.
She didn’t come easy. (Are bridges female? Like ships?) And she’s in progress, not complete.
Highway and bridge projects require funding. And when they cross state lines they require cooperation through all phases: planning, design, site selection, connections, and actual construction. They talked about it for years. One state proposed a toll bridge. The other adamantly apposed. River shipping has the right-of-way. You can’t put a bridge pier just anywhere.
I first believed it was more than words when I saw some of the early pier work in 2010. Twenty-eight months after that first actual sighting by my own eyes, two graceful towers rise, one near each shore of the Mississippi. Workers continue to install bridge deck and the long cables to support it. For this will be a cable stayed bridge, a design of other, newer bridges across the same river.
When finished, this structure will carry I-70 from the north edge of downtown St. Louis into Illinois. Can you hear the sigh of relief from the Poplar?
Wait for 2014 to cross.
This concludes our introduction to the bridges of downtown St. Louis.
My apologies. You cannot see this newest addition from the top of the Grand Stairs on the Arch Grounds. Well, maybe with binoculars and a little more height than my modest 5’5″.
The Interstate Highway System is intended to tie the major cities of the United States together. In St. Louis this also necessitates crossing the Mississippi River to connect the city with Chicago, Indianapolis, Louisville, and the rest of the Eastern portion of the country.
They built one bridge. Three interstates — I 70, I 55, and I 64 a.k.a. US 40 — converge in downtown St. Louis and skim across this steel deck girder bridge together.
It bears the official name of Bernard F. Dickman Bridge. Don’t ask for directions using that name. Natives, media traffic reporters, and signage will direct you to the Poplar Street Bridge. Opened in 1967 and located a short distance downstream from the landmark Arch, it carries a constant stream of cars, trucks, and motorcycles to and from the city.
Using the bridge for the first time? Drive across it infrequently?
My tip: Be alert to which of the interstate routes you want to follow. Some of the exits are in front of you before you realize you’re over land, not river.
Poplar Street Bridge viewed from upstream. Low winter water.
A thriving city craves infrastructure. With St. Louis’ location on one of American’s great river include bridges.
While the highway deck of the Eads carried it’s portion and the MacArthur downstream made a large contribution the city begged for more.
The City of East St. Louis, Illinois responded by constructing a toll bridge. It opened to traffic in 1951 with the name Veteran’s Memorial Bridge. The design is listed as cantilever truss and it adds a graceful note of interest to the downtown riverfront.
The toll is gone now and it received a good renovation in the late 1980’s. Even the name has changed – to Martin Luther King Bridge. Yet it continues to carry a daily ration of commuters.
We continue our look at the bridges of downtown St. Louis and slip into the twentieth century today. Railroads increase in size and number. Horses and wagons give way to motorized automobiles and trucks. Too much traffic for the Eads Bridge to handle without assistance.
Stone piers and steel trusses on a larger than life scale came to dominate the river a short distance downstream of the Eads. First impression is a bridge designed for heavy work. It’s beauty is found in symmetry and projection of power instead of decoration.
Construction began in 1909 of this two deck structure. The St. Louis Municipal Bridge, a.k.a. Free Bridge opened the upper deck to highway traffic in 1917. The lower, railroad deck opened in 1928.
Today the bridge bears the name of The MacArthur Bridge. The rail deck is in daily use. Freight trains cross the river here on a regular basis and Amtrak uses it when the Mississippi is at flood stage. The highway deck has not been used since 1981 and a portion of the deck has been removed. With curved and narrow approaches it’s doubtful that regular highway traffic will resume but occasionally you read of proposals to restore the upper deck for hiking and biking.
A visit to downtown St. Louis is not complete without a look at the Mississippi River and the bridges that span it. If you pick the right spot on the grand stairs below the Gateway Arch you can see four complete and one under construction.
Let’s begin near the beginning. When ferry service connected Illinois and Missouri. The riverboats reigned supreme and considered the very idea of a bridge a hazard to navigation.
But here come the railroads. A transportation boom after the Civil War. The writing was in the water. To maintain status as an important American city St. Louis needed a bridge connection with Illinois and the East.
James Buchanan Eads designed this pioneering structure. It was the first bridge to use large amounts of that new building material — steel. Innovations in caissons for pier construction and the cantilever method of erecting the three steel arches were each a major fete in and of themselves.
With great celebration the bridge opened July 1874. Rail traffic used the lower deck and a roadway occupied the upper.
Today the oldest in use bridge across the Mississippi is again carrying traffic on both decks. Since 1993 the light rail system carries commuters and visitors on the lower deck. After renovations completed in 2003 the upper deck again hosts four lanes of traffic and sidewalks for pedestrians.
West approach during spring 2011 flood
Take a few minutes on your riverfront visit to walk out and enjoy the view.